By Gail MarksJarvis
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Adam Levin, chairman and founder of the identity protection firm CyberScout and author of the book “Swiped” says that even if an individual’s accounts appear fine for now, thieves who obtain Social Security numbers could impersonate consumers any time in the coming years. However, there are things you can do to protect yourself now and down the road.
The massive data breach reported by Equifax this week will leave millions of Americans at risk of identity theft for the rest of their lives.
The credit monitoring company said Thursday that the breach may have exposed the Social Security numbers, birthdays, addresses and phone numbers of 143 million consumers.
While Equifax has offered to give people a year of free credit monitoring, that falls far short of what most consumers need to protect themselves, said Adam Levin, chairman and founder of the identity protection firm CyberScout and author of the book “Swiped.”
“Your Social Security number is an eternal thing,” he said. Consumers have their Social Security numbers for life, they are virtually impossible to change, and they are the access point to each person’s identity. The Social Security numbers that children hold are also at risk.
Even if an individual’s accounts appear fine for now, thieves who obtain Social Security numbers could impersonate consumers any time in the coming years, Levin noted.
As a result, those who had their personal data exposed need to be on the lookout for anything unusual involving their financial activities, including bank and credit card accounts, bills and insurance claims.
Those who had their information exposed need to monitor credit reports from all three credit bureaus to see if accounts have been opened in their name, according to financial experts.
One way consumers can determine if accounts have been fraudulently opened in their name is to check their annual credit report, which allows for an examination of the records kept on individuals by each of the three credit bureaus. These reports can be obtained free through www.annualcreditreport.com. The three credit reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, must provide individual’s with a free copy of their credit report, at their request, once every 12 months.
To see if your information is part of the data that was hacked, check with Equifax at www.equifaxsecurity2017.com.
There are a number of other steps consumers who may have had their data exposed in the Equifax breach, or in any other breach, should take to safeguard their information:
-Consider putting a “freeze” on your credit reports at all three credit bureaus. With a freeze, no one, including you, can get the official information needed to open a credit card or other account. But you will create a private personal identification number that you can use to open the reports as needed if you want to open an account or pursue other business, such as getting a mortgage.
-Check credit card and banking activity at least once a week. The sooner you detect a problem, the more chance you will have to stop it.
-Monitor medical bills and insurance information to make sure someone isn’t getting care by pretending they are you. If they are, you may be vulnerable in more ways than simply money. Your medical records could end up with someone else’s blood type, for example, which could put you in a dangerous situation, Levin said.
-When using websites, use two-factor authentication when you log on and when you are asked to set up security questions, lie for the answers, so that someone who knows something about you from social media won’t get the answers right.
-If you use credit monitoring services, which are provided by credit bureaus and companies such as Lifelock, make sure you get the highest level of protection, one that alerts you immediately if someone uses your Social Security number to open an account.
-If you get a deficiency notice from the IRS stating that you didn’t pay enough taxes, don’t ignore it, said Levin. It’s possible that someone has used your Social Security number to get a job. So the taxes you are paying based on your own employment will look deficient. On the other hand, realize that the IRS does not call people and ask for personal information over the phone. So if you get a call from someone saying they are from the IRS, hang up.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Gail MarksJarvis is a personal finance columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of “Saving for Retirement Without Living Like a Pauper or Winning the Lottery.”